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After being sent to live in an orphanage in Pennsylvania for three years, in 1960, my mother came and picked me and my two sisters up and brought us to Florida to live with her and her new husband. About three years after arriving in Florida, I was periodically having difficulties at home. My first memory of my experience with the White House began in a holding cell at Orange County Juvenile Center. I remember, being in Judge D.A. Yergey’s courtroom and hearing him say to my step-father, Cameron E. Elgin, “Mr. Elgin do you feel we should send him to Marianna School for Boys? We could do that or make another arrangement it’s up to you, sir.” His reply was ‘”Yes, I guess so, as we can’t handle him.” The Judge then said something to the effect that this would mean that I would be a ward of the State of Florida until such time as the State deemed that I was ready to be sent back home. The Judge sentenced me to the Florida School for Boy at Marianna as an incorrigible child for an undetermined amount of time.
After being held in Orange County for 10 days, I, along with several other boys, were transported to Marianna, Florida in an unmarked car.
Upon arrival, my name was put in the book and I was assigned a student ID number, (5895A). I was assigned living quarters and a work detail. What I can recall about the living quarters is that there were rows upon rows of beds. At that time I remember the all the boys wearing white t-shirts. The work detail I was assigned to was with the kitchen crew.
My first experience with ‘the White House’ went like this; one morning for breakfast we had pancakes and I put some syrup on mine, unknowingly some that had been reserved for the staff only. After getting reprimanded, a few days later, I was picked up by one of the cars with big antennas, along with other boys, and taken to the White House.
I remember going down a short hallway and being told to go into the left room and sit down on a bed. One boy was told to go to the room on the right. I sat down on the corner of the bed, next in line to be beaten, listening to what they did to that boy as I waited. The cried and screams were very loud and created a fear in me such as I to this day remember well. I cannot truly fully explain the horror but I have never forgotten that day or those sounds.
When it was my turn, I remember them telling me “The more you scream the more you will get.
Mr. Tidwell, tapping the wall with the leather strap, ordered me into the room on the right. As instructed, I lay down on the bed, turned my head to the right and tighten up my buttock with anticipation of the blow to come. I waited and I waited but he did not hit me. The very minute I relaxed my muscles the first blow came. Later some of the other boys explained to me that he was hitting the ceiling and waiting (between each blow) for me to relax. I wondered how could anybody do this to anyone let alone fifteen-year-old boy. I quite counting at 35 hits and just prayed for it to end. When it finally ended they carried me to the infirmary where someone took a substance that felt like Vaseline and rubbed the back of my legs with it. It was a pain I can still remember to this very day.
As a boy working in the kitchen I often saw boys going in and out of the White House. Sometimes they would come to the kitchen and pick boys out to come and hold the boys down on the bed to be beaten. If they refused, the understanding was they would also go down for a beating.
One day they chose me to hold someone down. I refused and was told to do it or else. Seeing that I had no choice, I complied. It was horrible. It is a memory I wish did not haunt me almost everyday of my life; holding that boy’s shoulder as he screamed and begged for his life, all the while crying as another boy held him by his feet. When I left that building I felt as if I have personally beaten that boy. This is something that I will never forget and do not know how to justify.
Time went on, Thanksgiving pasted and then Christmas passed. Since that terrible day I cannot remember any joy of these holidays at all.
One day someone reported me for smoking, which I was not. Several days later they came to take me to the White House. When they put me in the car, I knew what was in store for and I knew it was going to be more than horrible. It felt like I was in a prison movie and I was going to the electric-chair, never to return, never to be seen ever again.
This time I was first to be beaten. It was a repeat of the previous beating.
For years I wondered if I had imagined it being as brutal as it was. When I would share my story with someone else, which was certainly not often, they did not seem to comprehend how horrible it was. In most cases it appeared they did not believe me at all.
I subjected my family and friends to the harsh way I saw life. Often I would be told by my wife or close friends, that I was such a wonderful person and why was I so hard on everyone. I did not seem to understand that people often make mistakes. “Mistakes” were not allowed in the world in which I lived and mistakes carried very serious consequence.
My wife would over compensate with my children, allowing them freedoms and privileges she would not have otherwise allowed due mainly to my strict, unbending ways. I never understood the meaning of what they were saying, I did not think of myself as being harsh. I had learned from the Marianna School for Boys that you could do the necessary regardless of how much you disagreed or how much it hurt. I did not understand why everyone did not know this and could not understand that SIMPLE rule.
Many years later, I was sitting at my desk when my oldest son, telephoned. “I’m sorry Dad I never believed you,” were the first words from his mouth.
“What are you talking about?” I replied.
“Dad, the beatings at the Marianna School for Boys that you told us about when we were children. It was just on the news, on the television!”
Later that night I watched the eleven o’clock news and on CBS there it was, my nightmare! I looked up the White House Boys .com on the Internet and called Roger Kiser the next day. We had quite the conversation. Finally truth was validated and what a relief it was to be believed after all these years.
I went to the first reunion on Saturday, March 22, 2009 in Brunswick, GA. There I found that I was not alone. After listening to the other men, I understood what my family was trying to tell me all those years. As I filled out the question form I realize there were so many more things I had blocked out and did not remember. But most of all I knew then it was all-real.
After coming home from Marianna Boys School everything was very confusing and I felt very lost and disconnected. No one seemed know or care about the horrors and tragedies going on up there. No one seemed to care than hundreds of lives were being secretly destroyed. I knew other boys were still in trouble and should be helped but what could I do for them…absolutely nothing.
As time progressed I began to look at my life and tried to create a new one for myself. I married at age 17 and had my first child at 18. I could not hold a job at the time for my buried anger would come out in many ways, and at any time. I had no control of when these incidences would occur, just explode at any moment and for any reason whatsoever. I busied myself with my music, which is my passion. I met my current wife at the age of 28. She has her own experiences in life and seemed to understand my confusion better than anyone else. She accepted me for who I was at the time. Together we created a new life. Because she was kind enough to help me focus on my music and create my career, by 1988 I was touring with top named acts like the Platters. This opened the door to many other opportunities such as Lenny Welch (Since I Fell for You), Ray Peterson, (Tell Laura I Love Her), The Coasters, The Beach Boys, Spencer Davis (Give Me Some Lovin’), The Dixie Cups (Chapel of Love), The Crystals (Da Do Ron Ron), The Marvelettes (Please, Mr. Postman), Eddie Holman (Hey There Lonley Girl), The Shangri-las, (Leader of the Pack) Danny and the Jr.’s (At the Hop), Tiny Tim (Tip Toe Trough the Tulips), Percy Sledge (When a Man Loves a Women), and many more.
Soon after this period I started producing my own music projects. This lead to the creation of my band and sound company named “Earth Beat.” In the beginning I had a corporate sponsor for one of my biggest projects. This fortunate event allowed me to structure my company into a viable business. We moved on to bigger and better projects. Today I am a well-respected musician, producer and bandleader in the industry. If I had not been so confused and had been able to trust the establishment enough to go for more education or work within a music company, who knows where I would be today.